MLS is back! Two weeks are already in the books and the league has had some surprises. Sporting Kansas City isn’t good at defense anymore with Peter Vermes abandoning his typical anti-soccer for a leaky backline and desire to score goals while the Columbus Crew still being a really good attacking team despite losing its top two goal scorers from 2017. That’s one thing that makes MLS a kinda fun league to follow though. It has a certain element of being so bad that it’s good - like the film the Departed, but without the sense of humor while being still slightly difficult to watch sometimes - that gives it an endearing quality.
The league is one that has a... complicated relationship with fans of the US Men’s National Team. Arguably, MLS is as helpful as it is harmful for US player development with players having the chance to stay home - probably for more pay than abroad - while playing against sometimes worse competition. Still, they get playing time that they might not get in Europe or Mexico with the added bonus of perhaps being comfortable psychologically if they have a bad - or even a good - day in the office.
Do these players belong on the national team? Not necessiarly, but some certianly have an argument to get called up. For now, here’s how a select group of players from the USMNT pool fared over the weekend.
Mason Toye - Who? Toye was drafted by Minnesota United from the University of Indiana and the 19 year-old forward has already rewarded the Loons for selecting him. Even at one with Orlando City, Toye came on for Christian Ramirez in the 72nd minute and played a nifty flick to send Miguel Ibarra on a run into the box where he found a streaking Finlay for the game winner.
Ethan Finlay - After making a name for himself by having an excellent connection with the forehead of Kei Kamara, Finlay had a down 2016 and a followed that up with a down 2017. He moved to Minnesota United in mid-season last year and seemed like he’d be a starter on a team that seems destined to miss the playoffs year in and year out. The Loons have a lot to do to make the post season, but Finlay seems to be back his 2015 self. This time rather than his crosses, Finlay has been effective cutting in on the wing and notched two goals in Minnesota’s 2-1 win over Orlando City over the weekend.
Gyasi Zardes - Maybe it’s 2015, er 2014, all over again because, shockingly, Gyasi Zardes is good again. After scoring 16 goals in 2014 and seeming like he would be The Next Big Thing, Gyasinho managed just 14 goals in his next three seasons in LA. 2015-2017 saw him become a forward turned winger and then a winger turned right back by managers Bruce Arena, Curt Onalfo, Sigi Schmid, and even on the national team under Jurgen Klinsmann and the aforementioned Arena and American manager Dave Sarachan. Zardes has started the 2018 season in fine form with three goals in two games including a penalty. It seems like the front of the net is where he belongs as the striker has shown a terrific aptitude for being a poacher where his touch isn’t necessarily the most important aspect of his game.
The striker is on pace to score 51 goals this year (OK yeah, that’s not going to happen) and could also score a narrative brace (sorry) by helping the possibly soon to be relocating to Austin - Columbus Crew win MLS Cup in the same year he was cast off from the LA Galaxy in exchange for Ola Kamara.
Benny Feilhaber - The veteran midfielder and former Jurgen Klinsmann foil Benny Feilhaber is playing a little deeper in the midfield for LAFC than he was at Sporting KC. In two games this year he has a goal and an assist including finding the back of the net against Real Salt Lake over the weekend. LA has overtaken Atlanta United as team with most hyperbole attached to it in just two games, but they are a dangerous counter attacking team and Feilhaber is a big reason that they’ve been successful so far.
Luis Robles - Don’t look now, but Robles followed a Concacaf (the urge to keep it in all caps is strong) Champions League clean sheet with an MLS clean sheet. If American manager Dave Sarachan wants to take a look at a veteran keeper for the friendly against Paraguay, he could do worse than Robles.
Ben Mines - Who? The New York Red Bulls lined up a ‘B’ team as they continue to focus on CCL to start the year. It didn’t matter against the Portland Timbers who were completely out matched by NYRB in a 4-0 victory for the home team in New Jersey. Opening the scoring for the team was forward Ben Mines a 17 year-old NYRB academy product making his first ever MLS start. For more on Mines, check out this Goal.com article on him following the game over the weekend.
Brek Shea - Yes, I’m also going to talk about Brek Shea. No, I will not mention his hair or his pants. Shea came on in the 36th minute for the Vancouver Whitecaps when left back Marcel de Jong went down with an injury. Just after half-time he essentially ran past the entire Houston Dynamo defense and beat keeper Chris Seitz to draw the Caps even in the match.
Darlington Nagbe - So far Nagbe has been something of an enigma at this stage in his career - he seems to have the makings of a special player and has been highly regarded for both club and country. Still, debates about his best position and discussion about his playing style and commitment have followed his career. Over the weekend he was very effective as the tempo setter for Atlanta United distributing the ball to the team’s playmakers in the Five Stripes 3-1 win over DC United on Sunday. This is a good sign for Nagbe and finding a manager who can find the best tactical fit for the midfielder should let him really shine.
Andrew Carleton - Could Carleton be in need of a move abroad so that he doesn’t face the prospect of fighting for playing time against foreign players so that he can be a foreign player fighting for playing time? Perhaps. But the youngster had a minute in the match against DC United and made the most of it at least showing Tata Martino that he would give his best effort even if his minutes aren’t what many are expecting (oh, it’s also the second game of the season, chill).